When appendixes heat up, they mean it
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
When Dr. Louis Leakey interviewed Dian Fossey for a job in field research on mountain gorillas, he said she’d have to have her appendix removed to live in remote central Africa. Fossey promptly scheduled the surgery, and arrived home after it to find a letter saying he had not been serious.
At 5 one morning, my son, Roy, 12, tapped me on the shoulder.
“My stomach really, really hurts,” he said.
I pulled back the covers, brought him in and rubbed his back, thinking it was a stomach bug, and futilely hoping to cop a little more sleep. Soon Mike got him Pepto Bismal; I made ginger tea. Eventually, I just tried to get him to drink water. He took a shower, said perkily that he was fine, and five minutes later began lamenting anew. We had a friend staying, and I kept shushing Roy.
“I don’t care!” he’d yell.
Teddy, 15, awoke. At first sympathetic, he soon said, “You’re overdoing it, Roy.”
I made the earliest possible doctor’s appointment. By 9 when we left, Roy was dizzy and disoriented.
At the doctor’s office, he was checked, palpated; and I was quietly told it was probably appendicitis.
You expect a normal day and maybe a certain task at work, and then you’re looking, head spinning, at a hospital stay. I stopped at home to grab a change of clothes; within the hour we were in the surgeon’s office, and before noon, the ER, scheduled for emergency surgery. We would have to wait until 3, as someone was on the operating table. In time, Roy’s pain diminished, suggesting that the appendix had ruptured, reducing pressure, and also requiring the more invasive surgical option. Just before surgery, he found out, aghast, about the six- to eight-week recovery period.
In the operating room, the friendly anesthesiologist, whom he had met earlier, asked, “How you doin’?”
“Not good!” Roy said ferociously.
“Whoa! What happened?”
“I can’t go to a bike race!” he accused upward to the thicket of tall figures, before being put under.
Meanwhile, I had been learning about this now-useless digestive organ. When an appendix ruptures, the mortality rate is 50 percent. While Roy seemed young for appendicitis, the surgeon has removed them from patients aged 2 to 85. In the past, the anesthesiologist told me, sailors on submarines lined up before their three-month missions, to have all appendixes plucked.
Appendicitis tends to run in families. My father had his appendix removed, as did my brother. My brother’s lit up just after he left Papua New Guinea, not a good place for an appendectomy, and he returned to Washington, D.C.
Infection can crop up very fast. The night before, Roy had been jumping on a trampoline, yelling. I mulled over all the times we have taken our sons camping in remote areas.
In the recovery room, I looked down tenderly at Roy’s curled, unconscious form. As I told the nurses that the surgeon had fortunately found no rupture, his thumb stuck up. Then he whispered, “It hurts.”
Mike and Teddy were waiting outside the recovery room, and I spent the night at the hospital.
The morning brought improvement. “Ben just texted me,” Roy said with a smile at 9:15, school time. Phones are banned in class. “I think he went into the bathroom to do it.”
We were discharged, me now oddly shocked to be leaving the hospital; and he recovered steadily. During our final follow-up visit, on the eve of a second bike race, Roy was so determined to prove his fitness that he pointedly skipped down the hall to the examining room, and leapt up into an athletic crouch on the table. The doctor pronounced him ready, but suggested wryly, “Some Valium might be in order.”
Now Roy has a red scar, and we, who have raised our deductible high as insurance costs soar, have a bill it will take four years to pay off.
Far from ruing the scar, he loves it. “This scar is the best thing I own,” he said the other day, adding, “The most expensive, too.”
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at email@example.com
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